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Midseason review: Washington

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

The joke entering the season was Washington couldn't get any worse. That's what happens when a team goes 0-12 the previous season.

Few thought to ponder just how much better the Huskies, generally thought to be hopelessly lacking in top-to-bottom talent, could be with the injection of enthusiasm and coaching acumen that Steve Sarkisian brought with him from USC to Seattle.

The surprising fact for Washington at midseason: Not earning a bowl berth will be a disappointment.

It became obvious these weren't Tyrone Willingham's Huskies from the first game, when LSU barely got back to Baton Rouge with a victory. The Huskies dominating statistically, outgaining the Tigers 478 yards to 321, but were killed by a pick-six interception and a fumble on the LSU goal line in a 31-23 defeat.

After soundly beating Idaho -- no one then knew the Vandals, now 6-1, would go on a winning streak -- to end a 15-game losing streak, the Huskies shocked No. 3 USC and ended up getting a No. 24 ranking.

That came to an end decisively at Stanford, and then the Huskies lost a controversial cliffhanger in overtime at Notre Dame. The Huskies won a thriller at home in the waning moments against Arizona, then they lost the same way at Arizona State.

What's notable about the Huskies at midseason is the program has immediately transformed. It's no longer the easy out that lost nine games by 20 or more points in 2008. It's a team that can play with and even beat the elite teams.

Offensive MVP: Quarterback Jake Locker's stock has skyrocketed this season, his first in a pro-style attack. He leads the Pac-10 in total offense -- 275 yards per game -- touchdown passes (11) and passing yards (1,702). All that from a guy many thought was merely a glorified running back.

Defensive MVP: Linebacker Donald Butler has been in the middle of nearly every big play the Huskies have made on defense this year. He's tied for third in the conference with eight tackles per game and ranks fourth with 8.5 tackles for a loss. He was a forces in the win over USC, making a number of big red zone stops.